Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death for people ages 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With this risk top of mind, it’s no surprise that fall detection technologies, such as the Apple Watch’s fall detection feature, continue to gain popularity. While these products can’t prevent falls or detect 100% of falls, they can help older adults receive emergency medical care in a time of need.
Here’s what you need to know about the Apple Watch’s fall detection technology.
What Are Fall Detection Devices?
“Fall detection devices are alert systems that provide quick medical assistance for seniors who have suffered from a fall and are unable to get to a phone,” explains Janice Johnston, M.D., chief medical officer and co-founder of Redirect Health.
“They are wearable devices that can, by the push of a button or automatically, detect a fall when it happens and alert medical personnel to respond. Users of these devices are typically older adults who are at a higher risk of falling or who could have serious consequences if a fall occurs,” adds Dr. Johnston.
Fall Detection Device Accuracy and Limitations
Fall detection devices have the potential to save someone’s life. But just like other types of technology, these products do have limitations that Dr. Johnston addresses below:
- They might not work when someone is unconscious. When a person falls, they may hit their head and become unconscious as a result. In this situation, an automatic fall detection device can still be effective. Devices that require a push of a button, however, won’t help the person.
- The battery may die. While many of these devices have an extensive battery life, most still need to be recharged or have the battery replaced at a particular interval in order to function. If a fall occurs when the battery is dead, the person won’t receive the assistance they need.
- There can be flaws with automatic technology. Sometimes, a device that uses automatic technology to detect a fall may not work or detect when a fall occurs. Conversely, it can also falsely detect a fall even when one didn’t happen.
- They are only effective if they’re worn. In order for fall detection devices to detect falls and connect to medical personnel, they must be worn by the user. This compliance can be an issue, especially for older adults with memory loss and other cognitive impairments.
How Does Apple Watch Fall Detection Work?
Apple Watch Fall Detection uses the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Series 4 or later series, which requires a synced iPhone, to detect a fall while the watch is being worn. This feature is included once you purchase an Apple Watch, so you don’t have to pay extra for it. To turn fall detection on or off, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. Then, tap My Watch and Emergency SOS. If you choose on, you can opt for Always on or Only on during workouts.
If it detects a fall, it will “tap” the person on the wrist with a buzz, sound an alarm and show an alert. The person can then choose to connect to emergency services or dismiss the alert by pressing the “digital crown” button on the side of the watch. Users can also tap to close the alert or tap “I’m OK” to dismiss the alert.
If the Apple Watch senses the person is moving, it will wait for them to respond. However, if the person appears to be immobile for approximately 60 seconds, the Apple Watch starts a 30-second countdown while it taps them on the wrist and sounds an alert.
The alert gets progressively louder so that either the user or someone near them can hear it. Unless someone taps the cancel button, the watch will contact emergency services automatically as soon as the countdown ends. It will share the person’s current location as latitude and longitude coordinates via Apple’s GPS location monitoring feature.
Once the call is completed, the watch sends a message to the user’s emergency contacts with their location so they know a fall was detected and emergency services have been notified. The watch pulls these emergency contacts from the user’s Medical ID, which must be set up in advance to make the best use of the fall detection feature. Unless the person confirms that they didn’t fall with their Apple Watch, all falls are automatically recorded in their Health app.
To reap the benefits of Apple Watch Fall Detection, you’ll need an Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Series 4 or later, as well as an iPhone. An Apple Watch will run you $249 or more, depending on which watch you choose.
Why Use Apple Watch Fall Detection?
Apple Watch Fall Detection can be a good option for older adults who want to maintain their independence and age in place safely—as long as they feel comfortable using an Apple Watch. “A huge benefit to fall detection devices is that they can help prevent or prolong the need to go into assisted living or a nursing home, which can be a very large expense for most people,” explains Dr. Johnston.
“Additionally, these devices are easy to set up and use and can make the wearer and their loved ones [feel] more at ease that if they do experience a fall, immediate medical attention is right around the corner,” she adds.
Older adults who don’t have an Apple Watch or refuse to wear one aren’t good candidates for Apple Watch Fall Detection. Those with memory loss and other cognitive challenges that could prevent them from wearing the watch consistently or understanding how it works should likely avoid relying on this technology as well.
Apple Watch Fall Detection Technology Pros and Cons
Are Apple Watches With Fall Detection Devices Covered by Insurance?
Fall detection devices, such as Apple Watches with fall detection, are unlikely to be covered by insurance companies. The good news, however, is that Apple Watches with fall detection technology start at $249, which is affordable for many older adults—especially if they already have an iPhone. Plus, once you purchase an Apple Watch with the fall detection functionality, you don’t have to worry about any ongoing monthly monitoring fees like you do with a medical alert system.
Expert Advice on Using Apple Watch Fall Detection Technology
“It’s important to keep in mind that Apple Watches can be used for much more than just fall [detection] technology and that using it for other purposes can drain the battery. Overuse could result in a dead battery before you’re able to charge it, so you want to make sure you’re monitoring battery usage,” says Dr. Johnston.
“If you choose to use this technology, it works best when setting up your medical ID information, which includes adding an emergency contact who can be notified in the case of a fall, as well as noting important health information that medical personnel can use to make the best decisions for you, especially in the case a fall results in unconsciousness,” she adds.
By: Anna Baluch
From: Forbes Health